Friday, September 29, 2006

Say it to my face

Wired's copy chief has a column this week about communication, and how the Internet makes it so easy to be a jerk.

His anecdotal lede made me laugh:
A few years back, during the course of revising our in-house style guide, I decreed, as Wired News' copy chief, that the word e-mail should be spelled with a hyphen.

Had I been the copy chief of a general-circulation newspaper or magazine, the ruling would have been implemented without fanfare and it's likely that few, if any, readers would have noticed or cared. But because this decision was being made on behalf of Wired News, which has more than once planted its modest flag in the oddball world of tech culture, I felt compelled to offer a lengthy (and, in retrospect, rather pompous) justification for the decision.

The e-mail generated by that essay was overwhelming. It split about 50-50 for and against, and the tone swung dramatically, too, from adulatory to just plain snarky. I remember one in particular: "Why is it," wondered the writer, "that copy editors are always the most long-winded sons of bitches in any organization?" My reply to him (and I replied to as many as I could) was direct: "Because we're paid to be. That's why."

The following morning there was an apologetic response from him waiting in my mail queue. He was chastened, not because I wasn't a long-winded SOB on this occasion, but because I had answered him, one human being to another. He hadn't expected that. He thought he was writing into the ether. By answering him, I was no longer a faceless wall of sound. For him, at least, I now lived and breathed.

So are copy editors really the most long-winded sons of bitches in any organization? I'm gonna say no -- at least, not at any organization I've worked at.

And I could go on and on and on about just who is ...


At 11:12 AM, October 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my experience, the title of most long-winded can be shared equally by:

* Any executive explaining a reorganization. This is compounded by a succession of e[-]mail[s] [messages]/memos from successively higher layers of management blathering on further about the reorg. All such messages are apparently statutorily required to begin with "I'm excited to announce ..."

* A writer who doesn't know exactly what he's talking about, and therefore says the same two things several different ways in the hopes that he's sort of triangulating on some useful information.

On the contrary, copy editors are among the most concise writers I know ...

-- Mike


Post a Comment

<< Home